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Children's Health

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Kids' Obesity Risk May Rise With Parents' Divorce

Stress, unhealthy coping strategies may be to blame, experts say


It helps to keep to a normal routine during and after a divorce and to maintain a healthy environment, including diet and exercise, Rivero-Conil said.

Also, if you eat together, your kids are less likely to be obese, she said. "Take that 30 minutes to have breakfast or dinner with your children to show them what healthy eating is like," she added.

Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center in New Haven, Conn., thinks the risk of weight gain after divorce is one more piece of the obesity epidemic.

"For the majority of people living in the modern world -- adults and children alike -- getting fat is easy, and remaining lean is hard," Katz said.

Divorce may make gaining weight even easier, especially for boys, he said.

"Divorce might reduce the hours of parental supervision," said Katz. "It might introduce severe stress. It might result in financial hardship. It might shift attention away from health and food choice. It might invite more emotional eating by affected adults as well as children. These are just a few likely mechanisms."

Divorce likely compounds increasingly widespread vulnerabilities to obesity, he said.

"Perhaps specific attention to the mechanisms of weight gain after divorce may be warranted, so that those affected are empowered to resist," Katz said.

"But probably more important is the work required to turn the tide of pandemic obesity overall, by empowering families to eat well and be active as a matter of routine," he added.

For the study, published online June 4 in BMJ Open, Biehl's team collected data on boys and girls in 127 schools across Norway. These 8- and 9-year-old children were part of the 2010 Norwegian Child Growth Study.

The researchers found that 19 percent of the children were overweight or obese and nearly 9 percent were abdominally obese.

Overall, children of divorced parents were 54 percent more likely to be overweight or obese, and 89 percent more likely to have abdominal obesity compared to children whose parents stayed married, the study found.

The difference was especially apparent for boys. A similar weight pattern was seen for daughters of divorce, but the researchers said it was not statistically significant.

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